Notes from a Jersey Girl

by Lisa G Westheimer


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Mary Pat Christie You’re No Jersey Girl

Happy 4th of July to you Mary Pat Christie, but not to any other Jersey Girl and her family who wanted to go to a State beach or park this weekend.

Let me remind you Mary Pat Christie, that even with 6 months to go you are still First Lady of the State of New Jersey.  Let me remind you that as that title holder you are supposed to be the uber Jersey Girl; the gold standard of Jersey Girls, so maybe you should act like one:

Jersey Girls have compassion for other people

They welcome strangers into their homes from all races, walks of life, religions, and financial classes. They figure the more the merrier and their house is your house, not like you where your house is really our house given it’s paid for on our nickel and you keep us all shut out of it.

Jersey Girls always have enough Sunday gravy in the pot in case someone shows up or has a car break down nearby and needs some love and comfort

They don’t sit around on empty beaches surrounded by security to keep the riff raff out.  They realize riff raff are always the life of the party.

Jersey Girls put their foot down when their husbands behave like idiots

When their husbands come up with a harebrained scheme just one hand on a cocked hip with a long finger nail pointed at them usually does the trick, and when it doesn’t, a slap upside the head does. We keep our husbands from hurting the little guy and being a bully just because he can.

No Jersey Girl in their right mind would EVER deny anyone access to New Jersey’s gorgeous, unique and treasured recreation spots for ANY reason 

Got that?  AND they would never make their employees be in the heartless position at risk of losing their jobs to turn people away.  Jersey Girls are the ones who are supposed to send them to “run and errand” and then rip the barriers down themselves and let the people in to enjoy THE LAND THEIR TAX DOLLARS PAY FOR.

I guess from your beach chair in front of your Governor’s mansion beach house you didn’t see the poor hikers with their bed rolls and camping gear strapped to their backs, one walking a dog with mincing steps around the broken glass on the shoulder of very busy and dangerous Route 206 in Sussex County because they couldn’t get into Stokes Stake Forest to camp or hike that part of the Appalachian Trail because your husband is a jerk and a bully and had to prove a point by closing all the State Parks this weekend.

AND ANOTHER THINGJersey Girls don’t go ahead with their kid’s birthday parties while the state parks are closed on TAX PAYER PAID FOR LAND just because they have a security detail and a helicopter.  They think of all the other hard working Jersey Girls who only get 1 or 2 days of 4th of July weekend off because they work 3 jobs to make ends meet AND PAY THEIR TAXES.  They think of them, and how, that 1 or 2 days they get off are so precious and saved for parties for THEIR children and THEIR HEART BREAKS at the thought of how disappointed those children would be with their toys and coolers and bbq stuff to be turned away at the gate on the one day they’ve been so looking forward to!  No Jersey Girl would ever want another Jersey Girl to try to explain that to a kid.  That the reason they are turned away is the jerk with the beach mansion with the helicopter who lives on tax $$$ couldn’t give a flying fig about their constituents.

Most of all, if you are a Jersey Girl of means, you would teach your children that everyone is created equal and deserves love and respect no matter how much money or titles or helicopters they have or don’t have AND that being the Governor’s kids, their bling and toys are paid for by others, some of them with a heck of alot less money than them.

You know what Mary Pat Christie?  You are no Jersey Girl and I feel sorry for you.  You have no heart, no compassion, no vision.  You are blind, deaf and dumb to anyone not in your circle which is a very bland life indeed.   You’d better enjoy that beach and that helicopter while you can because the meter runs out in 6 months.

 

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It’s a Month Until the Election and My Stomach is in a Knot

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I’ve been thinking alot about a friend of mine lately, trying to take a page from her book.  She is one of those rare souls who is consistently serene and cheerful.  We had a conversation one day where she told me that when she can’t sleep she tunes into late-night call-in radio stations and listens to people she would never meet, who don’t share her same ideals and values.  Think truckers calling in on the topic of UFO’s or people focused on conspiracy theories and radical politics.  Personally, I would think that listening to a program that expounds values radically opposed to my own would give me insomnia or at least cause me to grind my teeth.  She, on the other hand, thinks of it more as a way to understand people different than her, which she finds interesting and calming.  Ok.

I’m sure most Americans my age will agree with me that this election cycle is one of the most tense and provocative in our lifetimes.  No matter which party we support and which candidate we have chosen to vote for, this is a process hard to watch, hard to wade through and hard to stomach.  Both sides feel they are making history by supporting their candidate and are vehemently opposed to the other as a person and as a politician.  Discourse has deteriorated into insult hurling matches; debates have devolved into manure slinging events.  There is very little informed policy substance being discussed.  Instead we listen to what awfulness can be dredged up from the past and accusations based on fuzzy facts.  Nothing seems to be discussed, it’s more disgust than discuss.

Which brings me back to my very serene and cheerful friend.  I want to be like her.  I want to be able to accept that people have opposite views than me and still be friends with them.  I want to have discussions with people who have opinions contrary to mine in a civilized manner.  I’m through screaming and turning purple when I hear someone repeat a “fact” about my candidate that they heard on the radio or read on Face Book that is not true.

I work with someone one day a week, I will refer to this person as “they.”  They will be voting in their very first election this November.  They are extremely passionate about the candidate running against mine.  They go to rallies and come back energized.  They pepper conversation with sound bites from this candidate.  At first I found this extremely provocative.  I felt like I had to counter every single thing they said in support of my candidate.  I must say I was not polite or serene about it either.  At one point I heard someone screaming and realized it was me.

Then I looked.  I looked at them and realized my words were hurting them.  I realized that this election, their first, was more than just any election, it was a huge turning point in life for them.  They said that by voting for this candidate they thought they were going to make history.  I told them that by voting for my candidate I thought I was making history too.  The light bulb went off.  We had something in common.  We just were coming about it from opposite ends of the spectrum.

What started as horrible weekly arguments now have turned into talks about how much we love our country and want the best for it.  That is our common ground.  This I suppose too, is my collective common ground with all Americans who are completely passionate about this election.  We are all Americans.  We all love our country.  We all want what’s best for it. We just have opposite ideas of what is best for it.  We all want to make history.  We just have different definitions of what history we are trying to make.  Things are now much better between us, and we can really talk about the candidates.  We ask each other questions and actually listen to what each other is saying.  There’s a large age difference between us and I think both of us are getting a better understanding of our perspectives and why we like the candidate we do.  As a result, they now show me pictures of the rallies they go to, and we enjoy watching Jimmy Fallon and SNL election skits together.

Maybe, maybe oh I hope and pray, we as American citizens, left to our own devices, will begin to feel united, will again try to work with each other, to listen, to accept.  Maybe someday all this anger will go away or at least get channeled into working together to find solutions, with or without politicians, that blend our values so that there are no winners or losers, there are just people compromising to make something that may even be better than they had hoped to begin with.

You can call me a fool or a dreamer, but I don’t care.  I’m just an American who loves her country.  On September 11, 2001, I jumped on the last train headed towards the disaster instead of the train that would have taken me home.  I realized at that moment, that I was like my father and my uncles, my grandfather and great-uncles, and my great-grandfathers.  I was an American patriot and my country needed me and I was going to do whatever I could to help because I love it so much.  Now it seems I need to have the same bravery I mustered on that day.  I will vote and I will be civilized about it, and I will be brave, for in this case being brave means reaching out to those who don’t agree with me to find common ground.


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Another Nail in the Coffin- Trash and Vaudeville Moved

Front view of my "folded magazine" clutch from 1975. I still have it!

Front view of my “folded magazine” clutch from 1975. I still have it!

Back view. I used it last Monday!!!

Back view. I used it last Monday!!!

 

Inside view. My dear cousin Bob gave it to me for Christmas in the 1970's. He was a fashion stylist and was my fashion idol. (still is!)

Inside view. My dear cousin Bob gave it to me for Christmas in the 1970’s. He was a fashion stylist and was my fashion idol. (still is!)

I’m entering into the “I remember when” phase of life.  Sigh.  I remember going to The Roxy to roller disco, bowling after midnight at Bowlmor on University Place, pining away that I missed seeing Blondie at the Palladium  and standing at the red velvet ropes dressed like Grace Jones outside of Studio 54.  I remember going to The Bottom Line to see Warren Zevon, The Fillmore East to hear Tom Waits, being too scared to go to CBGB.  I have great memories of achieving my space age look by dying my hair indigo and going shopping at Fiorucci’s, Canal Jeans, Love Saves the Day and Trash and Vaudeville.   In those days I had friends who partied way too hard their own good and spent countless hours at the All Crafts Center on St Marks Place, across the street from T&V where they could hit a 12 step meeting for any kind of addiction in the spectrum.  There was even an addiction free ballroom for clean disco dancing, many of my friends partied safely there, but I think it was a little complicated for the sex addicts.  All but a few of these iconic shrines to my formative years as a disco queen- gone!  No trace of the Roxy is left; The Bottom Line and Palladium swallowed up by NYU (the Palladium a DORM, oh the humanity!)

 

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Brooches bought at Fiorucci in Milan. The real deal!

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My “Scottie” suitcase I got in Milan, summer of 1980.

The All Crafts Center was gutted, added to and transformed into retail and apartments.  The bathroom at CBGB has been recreated and memorialized in a museum (?!!)  Fiorucci’s just a sweet fond memory (its originator died last year)  Love Saves the Day gone, thankfully before the building blew up last year by a gas leak.  Canal Jeans closed in 2002 and sold off their inventory in a space behind a Target on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn.  The last straw was reading in last Monday’s NY Times that Trash and Vaudeville was moving.  When I first saw the headline as I sat down with my cup of coffee my heart gave a lurch, but reading on it was moving from 41 St Mark’s Place to 96 East 7th Street.  PHEW!  Moving I can deal with.  Closing I can’t take.

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Treasured earrings from Love Saves the Day. I wore the ones on the left on Monday with my magazine clutch! Not pictured is the white tuxedo jacket I also got there in the early 80’s that I wore until it fell off sometime in the late 1990’s…

Trash and Vaudeville (T&V) was where, in 1979, I went and bought 2 pencil skirt suits circa 1950’s and a pair of killer black silk stiletto heels that I could use as a weapon then use to climb a chain link fence to make my getaway.  Those pencil skirt suits of light weight wool, 1 navy and 1 charcoal grey, and those shoes, spent a summer on me in Milan and went to the Venice Biennale in 1980, and were on my body for any job interview I had when I got back and then in continuous use when I was a receptionist all through college until they literally fell apart.  Sadly those stilettos (that I once stepped right out of one after the other as they got stuck in a sidewalk grate in Milan causing my companions to fall to the ground and roll in laughter) completely fell apart in the mid 1990’s.  I should have buried them or had some sort of ceremony, how thoughtless of me.  I remember going in T&V as a fresh faced, prep school educated, hay seed from Jersey, terrified I would get shooed out or worse assaulted, tattooed, pierced and tossed down the stairs for not being punk enough to be there.  I lusted after the motorcycle jackets and pointy black boots that could take out an eye with a well placed kick.  But oh those stilettos, they fit like they were hand made for my feet.  Ten bucks and they were mine.  The man in the accompanying picture in the Times article, identified as manager Jimmy Webb, looks exactly the same as the first day I entered the shop, maybe just a tad older.  All punkers looked prematurely aged back then.  It was part of the “look,”  like they had been around the block a few hundred times while the rest of us were all just white bread and milque toast living under rocks.

I still haunt St Marks Place and all the various hoods that were my stomping ground in the late ’70’s to mid ’80’s.  A few places still have a faint whiff of the vibe I remember, mainly by being populated by young people, the age I was when it was my back yard.  Gone is the grit, the grime, the crime, the ever present dog crap, the sour smell of a City abandoned by politicians, rotting from neglect.  But rather than being cleaned and polished and touched up and given back to the masses, the City has become scrubbed a little too clean- sanitized and generalized within an inch of its life to attract tourists who want to see a version of it that never existed and billionaires looking for places they’ll never visit to park their money until the coast clears and they are distanced from the illegal ways they earned it.  I sound like my Grandmother.  Ah me.

On the bright side, T&V is still here and so is The Public Theater, once a rough and tumble performance space held together by duct tape and baling wire with bathrooms rivaling those of CBGB’s now transformed into a beautiful complex for theater, cabaret and dining spaces, but still retaining its edgy, alternative, experimental vibe.  I got a membership there and will hang onto it and all my memories of that great vibrant creative era known as the 80’s for dear life.  I also still have my gold lame Capezio jazz shoes (they’re still around too!) that I bought on sale at Beau Brummel in 1980 (was on West Broadway, now on Broome St!)  Still fit like a glove and are soft as butter and make it so easy to dance and slide and twirl just like when we did under the disco ball all those years ago.

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Jazz Capezios bought on sale at Beau Brummel in 1980. Let’s dance. Put on your red shoes and dance the blues! (r.i.p. David Bowie!)


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Paris, France, November 13, 2015: after

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Notre Dame as seen through the rain from across the street under an awning at Shakespeare and Company

Bill purchased timed tickets for the Picasso Museum for early Saturday morning, so before retiring for the night he set the alarm on his cell phone.  About an hour later it began to go crazy with beeps, dings and buzzes.  What the hell?!  We got up to turn it off, looked at the screen and low and behold there were several texts from friends telling us to stay safe and asking if we were all right.  From our slightly open window I could hear sirens in the distance and a helicopter over head.  Come to think of it, the sirens had been going on for quite some time, beginning after dinner.  Cars with blue lights racing down the streets along the Seine.  We also almost bumped into several people dressed in emergency costume walking over the bridge when we returned from dinner to Ile St Louis.  They didn’t look alarmed so we thought nothing of it.  There was no indication that anything was wrong earlier in the evening.  We took the metro to and from dinner at Boullion Chantier on Blvd Faubourg in Montmartre with friends Nora and Francois, having had a lovely time, with plans to meet up with them after the Picasso museum to go to the Brocante in the Bastille.

Bill fired up the laptop and logged into the NY Times website.  Holy moly terrorist attacks in Paris, right under our noses!  Around the same time we could hear people milling around outside our door and lots of muffled buzzes of cellphones logging messages in vibrate mode outside our room.  120 dead at a concert!  A bomb going off at a soccer stadium?!  Restaurants and cafes attacked?!  OMG!  I lay there in my nice comfy bed staring at the grey sky, listening to the sirens and the helicopter.  No, please God, not again.  I was in lower Manhattan during the September 11 attacks, what now?  We called my mother.  We answered texts.  We frantically texted friends in Paris.  We slept about 2 hours.

“Bon jour, comment va votre famille?” is all I could formulate, right or wrong, reaching into the nether regions of my memory banks to high school French.  I practiced in the shower so I could ask the very nice lady who cleans our rooms and the man who fetches our morning coffee if their families were all accounted for.  They stopped in their tracks, a slight hitch in their steps, a deviation from the morning routine.  Each looked at me and smiled and said everyone was ok, thank you, and for me to be CAREFUL and wished me good day.

Why am I here at this auspicious moment?  Was it just an accident of time and place or am I here for a reason?  Why am I in the midst of terrorist action yet again?  All I could think of was God must want me here, but why?  Being over 50, and reading that most of the dead, terrorists included, were in their 20’s with the days of their whole lives in front of them spread like jewels, my heart went to the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  No one should ever have to bury a child.  Then I got angry.  Let me tell you, if I had to pick between sadness, depression or anger I’d take anger any day.  Anger gives you energy.  Anger gets you moving.  Anger gives you fuel to put one foot in front of the other.  Depression and sadness make you take to your bed and pull the covers over your head.  That will not do if your life maybe at stake and who knows what the light of day would bring for us?  No way am I curling up in a corner for some terrorist, no way, no how.  If I’m going down I’m going down swinging for the bleachers.

So we got up, showered, dressed, ate breakfast and went out the door.  My first stop was the church about a block away.  On September 11, before heading home, I stopped in the nearest church I could find.  On September 11, 2001, in New York City, the door to every house of worship was flung open.  Men and women of the clergy paced outside.  People of every color, persuasion, ethnicity, religion, non-religion seemed to be inside each one, stopping for a moment to take a breath before continuing on.  I kicked myself this morning for not remembering my rosary beads.  Anyway, I just needed to go to church to regroup.  I get there, and there’s a sign that it’s closed for the entire day!  I snuck inside anyway and was quickly ushered out.  Wow!  So different than at home.  I guess church is just another public placed closed by the government on this day.  I suppose it’s for my safety but to be real, if I’m going to die, the best place for me to die would be in church.  I’d already be in God’s house, I’m sure the tunnel with the white light at the end would be just through a hallway off the nave, right?  A real cultural correction for me!

So we wandered around a bit.  Bill wanted to go to the Bastille.  I thought he was nuts.  Let’s go to a place the French are really patriotic about when there’s a Jihad going on, oh let’s do!  Then we went to the aqueduct now converted to a park on top, stores below.  Bill wanted to walk on top.  Hello- ducks on parade in a shooting gallery! I don’t think so!  We managed to wander back to the hotel, but really, aside from a line of people snaking around the block to give blood at a clinic, and public buildings closed, there was no indication that anything was wrong.  I was surprised.

My friend Marybeth said if people were like fruit, Americans would be peaches:  soft and sweet on the outside but hard on the inside, while the French are like melons:  hard on the outside but soft and sweet in the middle.  Well the French were putting us Americans to shame.  Heels down, chin up, grab mane was the mantra of the day for everyone we passed on the street.  I was impressed.  Rather than run around like hysterical squirrels the way I do in a crisis, they carried on, hard shells intact.

And speaking of hysterical squirrels, how the hell am I going to get Fred on an airplane in his huge white cardboard box during a state of high terrorist alert?!  Lastly, how do I categorize this installment?  I was just thinking yesterday that this was the first trip Bill and I have taken in years that doesn’t qualify as a wife survival test.  But then again….  Is this a diary?  Survival test?  A rant?  Maybe all 3.

Let me close with one of my favorite prayers apropos of the occasion.  It’s to my favorite uber saint, Saint Michael the Archangel.  If you are not familiar with the hierarchy, archangels trump superheros.  They have amazing powers and are not to be trifled with.  As I pray the following words I envision the AK 47 wielding, grenade tossing demons wrecking havoc over the innocent souls in Paris, who did nothing to deserve their fate other than be in the wrong place at the wrong time, being stuffed straight back into hell where they belong, to atone mightily for all eternity:

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen..


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About Invisibility

I’m recovering from invisibility. It starts once a girl hits 50. We slowly but steadily fade away. We get taken for granted. We’re always there. We’re the ones who’ve kept the houses running, the food plunked on the dinner table every evening, the elves who make the bed every morning, do the laundry and plan every holiday. We’ve become so dependable that we are as old and faded as the wall paper, something you pass by so much it blends in, just hanging there marking time in the house.

It started full blast when my husband and I went on a bike trip to California with 2 male friends. I had just recovered from a knee injury and could finally exercise again. It was a long and lonely recovery. I fell off my horse. Actually it was the 5th time that year I fell off my horse. I almost gave up but attacked the problem full on- took lessons on him, took lessons on other horses, read books about overcoming fear, read books about equitation. Put poultice and ice packs on my knee. AND I trained for that goddamn bike trip in California. I was proud of myself.

But no matter, when in the company of Mamils (Middle Age Men in Lycra) the only thing worth noticing is the bike and all the little expensive googas dripping off it, hills, mileage and butt cream. Many things are invisible to Mamils- the quality of accommodations, certain odors, foods other than gels and energy bars, drinks other than electrolyte replacements and beer and most of all- women, in particular those over 50.

While they went off to do their man rides I went off alone to make my own adventure. I jogged, I rode horses, I rode my bike, I took car tours, sometimes all in the same day. I sat down at the dinner table bubbling with stories. I talked myself hoarse for a half hour before realizing not one of them heard a word I said. I finally screamed, “Hello! Am I invisible or what?!” Only friend Chris heard me (he’s the introspective one.) He said, “it appears so.”

On the day of the ride I was determined. I was a girl with a mission. I was on fire. I was going to nail my ride. I was going to come in the top ten and win in my age group. While the men did the 100 I did the 20. 20 is a good number. Good things happen when one is 20. $20 will get you a nice sandwich, chips, a drink and dessert. 20 rolls off the tongue like a lucky number. Riding 20 miles is impressive to those who don’t exercise. 20 miles of hard riding is a nice way to punctuate the end of recovering from an injury. 20 miles of hard riding translates into chocolate and mixed drinks with no weight gain. And the 20 miler was going to be my friend. I had studied the course. I trained in the rain. I rode a heavier bike that the one I had for the race. I had bike tights long enough to cover my knee brace. I was sick of being invisible, this was my moment!

I zoomed out of the start and never quit. I stopped at the rest stop only to take off my jacket. I put my head down and pushed on through a stiff damp head wind. I sized up my opponents ahead- a gaggle of Mamils and their spouses. They were in my cross hairs. They were toast. Only they were too far ahead for me to catch on their lighter, faster road bikes. Mine was a sturdy hybrid. Damn. At least 6 of them and all in my age group.   My dreams were being shattered on the road before my eyes. But I put my head down and kept mashing. The road was pitted. It had pot holes, my butt hurt, my knee ached, my thighs screamed.

But around the last bend there was a sight to behold. The clouds were parting, the wind shifting, the angels sang- the gaggle, every last one of them, were stopped by the side of the road. Flats on those skinny fast tires. HAH! Only I had trained on the roads of New Jersey, home of the pothole that ate Newark. HAH! My heavy bike with wide tires, my thighs of thunder and generous butt padding ruled the road. Only four 20- somethings on heavy fat tired mountain bikes, the whippersnappers who could drink all night and do their first bike ride of the season and win a race were ahead. A hallowed vindication. I crossed the finish line 5th overall, first in my age group. HAH! Oh sweet victory. That after ride bagel and coffee went down smooth.

Hours later I waited for the boys at their finish line. 1 didn’t finish and the other 2 came in last and second to last. HAH! I came in FIFTH! I came in FIRST IN MY AGE GROUP! But according to the boys it didn’t matter. Afterall it wasn’t a race-race. It was a ride, and afterall, I only did the 20. To further hammer that nail in my ego coffin, the race results transposed my age from 51 to 15. Of course a 15 year old would do that well. Invisible yet again.

I recounted this sorry turn of events to my cousin Amy in Oakland to whom I clung as if she were a life raft during this Mamil fest. When Amy heard we were coming to California she stepped in and made sure we would all end the trip in Calistoga, where she would pick the hotel for us and meet us there with her husband Eddie (another Mamil, but God Bless not the rabid sort.) “That is so sad.” She texted after receiving the picture I took of my breakfast at the motor lodge: an apple with the broken plastic knife I tried to cut it with on a styrofoam plate with mosaic sized plastic packets of peanut butter and coffee so weak it looked like a brown crayon had been dipped in warm water. “I made you an appointment for a massage.”

“Get used to it” she wrote next when I texted I was completely invisible, “it gets worse but you learn to work around it. By the way, I made dinner reservations.” So days later, sitting in a lounge at the hotel pool with a glass of wine in one hand and in the other a murder mystery where the protagonist was a cat and the last chapter contained recipes, I found peace. The boys straggled in from yet another gnarly ride, furrowed brows, stiff kneed, making groaning noises as they sat down. What was that? Did I detect some grumbles? A little bickering among the ranks? Dinner was fabulous, the massage was amazing and I forced Lenny to buy his wife a present over the $20 he wanted to spend. Life was good.

It took a few years after that trip to realize what I had to do to once again join the ranks of the visible- I had to turn into my Aunt Vicky. What a terrifying prospect, but it had to be done. Aunt Vicky was really my great Aunt. She was my mother’s aunt, her father’s sister. (The Italian side) First generation Italian American born in the North Ward of Newark, she was 1 of 2 girls with 10 brothers who’s mother died when she was 2, leaving her to be raised by my mother’s father who was the oldest. My earliest recollection of Aunt Vicky was visiting her and my Uncle Mandy (her husband) in their run down apartment in an equally run down and squalid public housing building off the Garden State Parkway (Exit 145 by the cemetery and Pabst Brewery) in Newark.

The building was of dark brown brick. The halls were of dark brown cinderblock with chocolate brown glossy trim and a dark brown linoleum floor. The elevator doors were dark brown and dented. The halls smelled like sweat and stale fried liver and onions. As soon as we entered their Chihuahua “Chipper” would attack and bite every single one of us. Chipper was insane. Chipper was the Devil incarnate. He had bug eyes and sharp teeth and long black nails that clicked on the floor.   He was dark brown.   Chipper had it in his pea sized head that he had to protect Aunt Vicky. If someone even slanted a look her way they were mincemeat. Forget about giving her a kiss or touching her.

Aunt Vicky always wore a house dress and slippers. She had curly brown hair and was thin and kind of shriveled, like a prune. Her brows were bushy and always pointing down towards the tip of her nose. She was always mad, even when she was laughing. My Uncle Mandy was always sitting in a Barcalounger (dark brown) in front of the tv watching football in winter, baseball in summer. He had dark skin and black greasy hair, a basketball belly and very very long arms and ear lobes. His lower lip always drooped and his lower lids sagged. He had an uncanny resemblance to an orangutan. Sometimes their son Johnny would join him, the two of them slack jawed and dewey eyed in front of the tv, slouching in their chairs wearing wife beater shirts, boxer shorts and black socks, each with a beer in his hand. I don’t remember either of them ever speaking or even moving.

Aunt Vicky had the metabolism of a humming bird and never was still. Upon arrival she would rip off our coats, drag us into the kitchen, plunk us at the table and feed us until we exploded, all the while complaining or laughing about something. Toiling away at the stove or the sink interrupting only to get a beer for Mandy. She was always mad about something. She terrified me but she was a damn good cook. Her gravy (red sauce to the rest of you unfortunates) was to die for. My fondest recollection of her was yelling at my brother who sat complaining that he’d rather be swimming down the shore. Whipping around from the stove, waggling a gravy stained wooden spoon his way she shrieked, “It’s not even 4th of July. You want to freeze your kweezer off?!”

Aunt Vicky wasn’t invisible. I didn’t really appreciate Aunt Vicky until I turned 50. Like her battle ax of an older sister, Aunt Laura, bigger, badder and more bushy eyebrowed, who thankfully lived in Maryland so we didn’t get to see her often, Aunt Vicky had PRESENCE. You always knew where she was and where you stood in relation to her. She had to be tough. Raised by 10 brothers and no mother with Aunt Laura as a sister and Uncle Mandy as a husband and Johnny, his clone as a son. She may have been small, but like Chipper, she was scrappy.

My mother is an Essex County 2nd generation Italian American Jersey Girl from Newark. That is a very special pedigree of Jersey Girl. What begins in Essex County usually stays in Essex County. Newark Essex County Jersey Girls don’t translate well west of the Delaware Water Gap, south of Maryland (Aunt Laura was just on the edge) and north of Boston.   The Atlantic Ocean is wide enough to protect England and most of Europe but you can find a lot of them in southern Italy visiting family or on vacation.

Newark Essex County Jersey Girls are very smart. They know how to work around things that hold them back and move forward when no one’s looking. They make gravy with meatballs and sausage on Sundays, say Novenas; (My Aunt Mary used to say them in between rounds of Friday night poker, more on her another time) accidentally eat meat on Fridays during Lent (but that’s ok, God wouldn’t want to waste) wear their hair high and thick and their pants low and thin and spend their weekends putting flowers on graves on the way home from going down the shore. They don’t take crap from anyone but are known to cry watching kitty litter commercials. And the have wicked accuracy when throwing shoes.

I’m a hybrid. I was born in Bergen County (up north) New Jersey. My father (gasp) was first generation Polish American from Garfield. What that meant was he was supposed to be hard working, neat, very patriotic, very sentimental, able to drink like a fish and have pictures of at least 3 popes hanging in the dining room. Except for the first 2 my father fit the pattern except when he married my mother. Uh-oh on both sides of the family. How huge- marrying an outsider! Not only not the same heritage but not even the same zip code!   Family meetings were convened. Jaws dropped. It was shocking.   But both exhibiting traits common to both cultures- stubborn hot headed determination,   they married and stayed married until my father died in 1999.

As I said before, Essex County Italian American Jersey Girls from Newark generally have no problem with invisibility, but since I’m a hybrid and have only lived in Essex County for 15 years and counting, I have issues. Oh my God I married a Jew from Ohio but at least he wasn’t like that other one, the knuckle dragger from Staten Island I almost married, even if his mother was Italian and his father from Kearny. (Besides it’s not like he’s observant.) Heck after him, I could have married a giraffe and they would have still thrown me a shower. I wondered how my family would react to me marrying someone outside my faith, but it upset the family more, especially my Aunt Sue (my mother’s sister) that he was lactose intolerant.

“No eggplant parm?”

“No Aunt Sue.”

“No mutz?”

“Afraid not.”

“No cannoli???”

“No.”

“And you’re getting married?”

But I digress. Hybrid that I am I left home at 18 to go to college and the minute I could scrape the money together left to live on my own in 1980 in New York City as if shot out of a cannon. Sure there were very hard times, having little money and making bad decisions only a 20 year old girl can make, but my parents always rushed to the rescue through the Lincoln Tunnel bearing lasagne and cold fried fluke they caught off the party boats in the Atlantic Highlands.

So about this invisibility thing. It seems I had to learn to put my foot down and put it down loud enough for it to be heard. I tried everything. I stopped turning the inside out t-shirts when folding clean laundry. I asked at dinner time, “can you cook tonight?” and “can you change the comforter cover?” But the turning point was, “I don’t want do Easter at our house this year.” Like my brother who was born close to Christmas, I am a baby who’s birthday gets eclipsed by a holiday. My birthday falls during Lent. Usually during Holy Week. Sometimes on Good Friday, Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday. With Christ’s torture, death and resurrection I can’t compete. To add to the complication our anniversary is two days after my birthday. And this year, Easter fell smack dab in between.

So I announced that since it was my birthday and our anniversary I didn’t feel that I should be the one to clean (a euphamism for changing over the curtains from winter to spring, washing windows, airing out the house and putting out Easter decorations) shop, cook, serve, get drunk, then clean up again. I wanted to just skip over to the get drunk part. I thought I had made myself CLEAR, but when I woke up on Easter morning my husband looked at me and said, “what do you want to do today?” Poor innocent lamb. Though I’m sure I could make some calls and get some Essex County Jersey Girls over with shovels and a garbage bag even on Easter Sunday, I did not rip his head off.   I turned on the water works.

I replied, “what I want to do is go visit my Uncle Jim and Aunt Mary and her sister Brigitte in their upstairs railroad flat overlooking Watsessing Park and eat strufoli and play seven card stud deuces wild. I want to see my Grandpa Frank and Grandma Nancy and sit in their sunroom while they gave me coconut eggs in a pretty basket and a dollar. I want to go to Garfield and hunt Easter eggs in my Babci’s backyard with the rest of my cousins and have her help me find the best one.”

I worked up a good head of steam for awhile there. My husband looked scared. He had that look in his eye they tell you to have when you encounter an enraged bear in the woods. And then it hit me- I was Chipper. I was Aunt Vicky. I was visible.